Monthly Archives: April 2004

My Reading List

About 16 months ago I resolved that I was going to start reading (and listening to audio books) in order to broaden what I’m exposed to beyond simply endless technical materials and news. The result is that I’m pretty much on target for my goal of one book per month ever since then. The first few months were actually a really slow start so if you had been able to see this list eight months ago you would have figured I wasn’t going to make it. But I’ve caught up and I’ve discovered both some great and some not so great reading along the way.

Game Developers’ Quality Of Life Is No News Bulletin

This is a news bulletin for many people but not for anybody who has ever even peeked inside the industry. There’s a new white paper over at the IGDA (IGDA – Quality of Life White Paper). You have to be a member to download the 90pg. complete report but the summarized highlights are no surprise. People within the game industry are grossly overworked and at least somewhat underpaid.
“Only 3.4% said that their coworkers averaged 10 or more years of experience.” – Yeah, that would be because by that time they’ve figured out they can make more money for fewer hours doing development of something other than games.
“Crunch time is omnipresent, during which respondents work 65 to 80 hours a week (35.2%). The average crunch work week exceeds 80 hours (13%).” – One developer in Dallas was known to have put cots or couches in all the offices and have YMCA memberships around the corner so people could go shower.
When I created the X-Plus and websites (prior to participating in it was to become a game developer. I imagined that it would teach me about how to develop games and make industry contacts to get a game job. Here’s a news flash, never create a website to learn about anything. If you develop a big successful community you will learn a great deal about building successful web communities, not about your topic of choice. Everything I learned about people within the industry taught me the following things:

  • There is an endless supply of developers out there who believe game development would be really cool. The people hiring for the industry know this and aren’t going to pay you nearly as well because they rely on this seemingly inexhaustible pool of people.
  • Many of the developers within the industry may be good with 3D or sound or many other topics but often they are inexperienced with basic software practices that you or I might consider essential. In that category I would put things like source control, test first design, design patterns, etc. Even when they know better the time crunch to get stuff out the door often makes them toss good software practices in a foolish attempt to save time.
  • Working on a game for two years can quickly become no different than working on any other program for two years. That is, when you have to dig around in the guts of the program day after day and deal with its bugs and only with that one game it’s not going to seem all that fun anymore. In fact, you may find yourself playing other games just to get away from it for a while.
  • What says you are going to be working on Half-Life X or one of the few dozen cool games that come out every year anyway? Remember, somebody is out there building the game that goes with the next Jim Carrey movie and it’s probably going to be you. Look around at most of the dreck that comes out. That stuff doesn’t develop itself.

Magic And Me

When I was a kid, magic was probably my favorite thing in the world. I used to do magic tricks all the time and any time I could go to a new or different library that was the section I headed straight for. My budget for buying tricks, books, and materials to make things was pretty much non-existent (after all, I had to buy comics somehow too) so I tended to focus on tricks which could be done with cards, string, paper, etc. That plus a few props I had purchased gave me enough to put on many many shows for friends and family. BTW, to all the friends and family who didn’t want to watch a little kid give them a magic show, I apologize now 🙂
These days I have all the money I could have ever wanted as a kid to build up magic stuff but I’m not going to. I found a book that I’ve wanted for about 20+ years at a magic shop in New Orleans called Sideshow (it’s owned by the magician and sitcom actor Harry Anderson). They included the first volume of Tarbell’s eight volume encyclopedias on magic together with some simple stuff for tricks. Most of it is junk but I’m sure I’ll use some of it. Mainly I just wanted to get my hands on the book. I’ve still got my two favorite books on magic that I wore to pieces when I was a kid. Maybe someday soon my wife will catch me in front of the mirror again practicing my tricks…

Peer-To-Peer Picture Sharing

I think OurPictures is really cool. It’s software you can buy for $50 (US) and you get licenses so you can put it on up to four desktops (perfect for my family). Then people can share pictures with one another without messing with email, web sites, etc. You put the pictures in, indicate you want to share them and they get transmitted to others. It has printing and some other stuff as well but most of that is nigh on useless to me as we use Adobe Photoshop Album for all our photos. It’s great software and it does a spectacular job of categorizing and working with your pictures.
While I’m at it I should plug the Photoshop Album Starter Edition available for download on Adobe’s site. It lets you pull in all your images, tag them, search them, etc. It never expires but it lacks a lot of the ability to do projects (books, calendars, etc.) with your pictures. You can even upgrade to the full edition later if you like it and keep all the work you’ve already done with your photo collection. We use it as a second copy of Album on my machine because Rockelle has the full copy that we bought.
Let’s hope that Adobe adds a peer-to-peer sharing feature in a future version. Then the free version of Album could be used as a client by anyone I want to share pictures with and Adobe manages to periodically convert some users from free to full owners. Everybody wins.

Vacation, Vacation, Vacation

FrenchMarketInNewOrleansLA.JPG I took a week long vacation with my sweetheart in New Orleans, LA last week. We’ve been back a few days but have mainly concentrated on resting up from the best vacation either of us have ever had.
I was pushing hard the last couple of days before I left to finish up FourColor so I could put the program and its source out there. It just didn’t make sense to put out a new program just before I was going to be gone for a week and I wouldn’t be able to help anybody interested in it. So, I’ve got a bug that absolutely must be fixed and two small features I’d like to add before the first release but if it looks like the features will hold it up at all I’ll just release as soon as I fix the bug.

Download Old Games Legally (And Cheaply)

StarROMs has legal downloads of a multitude of old Atari titles. Each one is the ROMs from the original game ready to use within an emulator like MAME. You don’t have to go pirate anything in order to play your favorite arcade titles of old. This is very cool and I look forward to them getting licensing agreements with more classic arcade companies like Namco and Williams.
However… With that said, here is another example of a website having to come up with its own stupid mass purchase technique to try and work around the high transaction costs associated with credit cards. This is directly analogous to the problems that iStockPhoto had a while back. I don’t want to buy a big chunk of “tokens” on the StarROMs site to buy some games. Tying my money up in your funny money currency when it isn’t going to work on any other site doesn’t thrill me. Instead, go with BitPass and let me buy exactly the tokens I need at $0.25 (US) per token to get a game when it comes time to buy one. That also makes an impulse purchase that much easier for me because I may already have money in my account from something else I bought recently using BitPass.

Ringworld – The Mini-series

Buried on this page about Sci-fi Channel news is the following:

RINGWORLD: Based on Larry Niven’s RINGWORLD series of novels, a four-hour mini-series is in development. In the future four explorers crash on an artificial structure in deep space, a mammoth ring that circles a distant star. Exploring this strange place, the humans discover that there is life here and secrets that could change the universe forever.

I’d be terrified that it would suck but I thought their Dune mini-series was OK and the Battlestar Galactica remake was quite good, so here’s hoping.

Another Free Audio Books Site

Matt Reynolds pointed out that AudioBooksGratis doesn’t appear to be working at the moment so he pointed out a different free audio book site called
Note that this website is not perfectly free. If you want something for free then you have to accept a fairly poor audio quality (8khz) downloaded one MP3 file at a time. But then, you are getting it for free. If you want higher quality or easier downloading then you can pay for it on a per file basis (a few bucks here and there) or pay a one-time fee ($100 US) to get a membership.
While I don’t object to paying for things, I think that the fees are the first thing I don’t like much about the site. Three US dollars to download all the MP3 files in a single ZIP file?!? Or an extra four to get better quality MP3 files?!? That’s steep! I’m sure part of it is that in the old days it was pretty impractical to deal with credit cards for small amounts, but now that BitPass is out there and starting to spread around, there’s not a very good excuse. Offer me a chance to get better quality for $0.25 and I’ll be interested. At least based on bandwidth and server costs I just ran on the back of an envelope that’s huge profit margins.
The other thing I think is a little funny is that the site is apparently overseas and it’s kind of funny to hear Mark Twain read with a British accent 🙂

Serious Database Problems

Let’s just say that you don’t want to have your server run completely out of disk space and then have MovableType change pages. The database it uses to hold entries from myself and Rockelle is really really screwed up.